SUBJECTS: Budget repair, welfare cuts, energy, APVMA relocation.

DAVID SPEERS:  We have here Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Craig Laundy and the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon. Very good to see you both, thanks for joining us. How are we going to fix this budget? We were aware of this standoff and once again its Groundhog Day. You guys try to push through some spending and you guys say no. Nick Xenophon said no as well so it’s a big problem for the nation though. We have a big threat to our AAA credit rating. Is anyone going to get…

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: I will let Craig answer the question fully because come July he would have been in Government for four years David and in each and every year, this Government has been both taxing more and spending more. So they are the Government and we stand ready always to cooperate and talk about important reform including budget repair. We have supported the majority of the their savings measures but they just don’t know how to run the Parliament, they don’t know how to run economic policy and they certainly don’t know how to do negotiations in the Senate.
SPEERS: Well Craig Laundy, you are in Government and you have been there for four years.


FITZGIBBON: Are you going to talk about the swimming?

LAUNDY: No I don’t want to talk about the swimming, I’m trying to forget it. But look, Joel is right, they do support us when it suits. So for three years they played politics with $6 billion worth of savings and they said no. Now through a combination of, A, working out that they were way behind us anyway in budget deficits, they were actually increasing and David Feeney committing hari-kari on your show, they end up in the run-up to the election saying yes to that $6 billion. If they had said yes to that three years earlier there’s $18 billion less in debt. Now they are happy to support when it suits or when they are in trouble, but then they want to come and play holier than now, nope sorry.

FITZGIBBON: We support them when they put forward (inaudible)

LAUNDY: Why didn’t you support it day one Joel?

FITZGIBBON: They put forward the current sort of priorities.

SPEERS: Let’s get to that right. We hear this is your fault, your fault, your fault, when we look at the specifics of what is in this and let’s just pick out a couple. Family end of year supplements to family payments. You guys want to get rid of them and you are willing to boost the fortnightly payments a bit along the way, what is wrong with that?

FITZGIBBON: Tony Abbott ran a jihad…

SPEERS: Forget Tony Abbott.

FITZGIBBON: He retained them. The point here David is this, if you are on a fixed low income you’re living week to week and pay to pay. When government comes along, and $50 to Craig and I doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but if you rip $50 out of a very modest weekly budget for a pensioner or an unemployed person or a sole parent, you have real and meaningful impact. Taking money away from people is always difficult.

SPEERS: That’s a fair point, This is one of the other measures. For those under 25 you guys want to put them on Youth Allowance, $50 a week less. Is that too tough?

LAUNDRY: David you are looking at things in isolation. Our welfare budget already consumes ballpark half of our tax receipts.

SPEERS: We’ll get to the specifics, that’s where it gets difficult.

LAUNDY: But it is also growing yes, but you’ve got to work inside and we are already running budget deficits. You’ve got to work inside funding envelopes. Then alone, when you get things like the NDIS and there has been a lot of criticism of this and I’m not going to criticise, David. I’m going to take a different approach. In 2013-14 in good faith, they came up with a 10 year plan. However, you’ve seen the further you forecast out in budgetary measures, the less accurate you get. We have already found a $5 billion hole last year which Minister Porter has filled. We have another $3 billion hole. Guess what? As we get closer to 2022-23, we may find we need more. Now the problem is when you’ve got funding constraints to start with you’ve got to look across the board and you have mentioned the Newstart. Okay, it’s like Labor, they had to make a decision to put single mums and change their payment scheme at the time and we supported that.

SPEERS: Own that and defend it and that’s my point here. It’s a lot easier to say this welfare envelope is too expensive, correct, but when you get to actually what you are going to do to this young job seeker, are you willing to say they deserve to lose $50?

LAUNDRY: David, we have other programs running  in conjunction with this, like the training scheme for the unemployed. So you can’t look at policy in isolation, that’s with I’m saying. It is a massive document in the budget. If you’ve got incoming reoccurring expenditure starting, and you are already borrowing brass, because you are in deficit, you’ve got to have a serious look like reducing Family Tax Benefit B 18 to16.

SPEERS: Given all of that and the threat to the bottom line, and we are going to hit the debt ceiling pretty soon, the credit rating is a bit worrying, can we really afford the company tax cut?

LAUNDY: The short answer is yes. Because take today, the Commonwealth Bank has made, what $5 billion I think they have announced?

FITZGIBBON: $7 billion in tax cuts will go to the major banks.

LAUNDY: $5 billion, but I’m glad you say that. Company tax rate is 30 per cent today. What happens? Today the Commonwealth Bank has announced they are releasing 70 per cent of their after profit tax in dividends. Guess what happens in this country? The tax officers aren’t dopes, that goes to investors and shareholders. You pay top up tax at your marginal rate. No one has this discussion. Tax is complex and what companies do, especially small and family business is they leave the dividends inside the company structure which is what is called retained earnings. They use that as capital to grow their business and then they employ more people as they grow their business. That is the science here. Now what have we done since we have come to Government? In the last 12 months there have been 173,000 jobs created in the small business sector. We want that as the engine room to flourish moving forward. There’s 102,000 jobs as the Prime Minister said in manufacturing in the last 12 months. Every time you hear job losses you hear Labor say jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s how it works David but it’s complex.

SPEERS: How will you actually pay for that $48 billion?

LAUNDY: It does… you pay from it from increased receipts in your PAYE tax receipts.  That’s how you pay for it.  It’s a multiplier effect.  That’s what I’m saying.  Everyone just wants to focus… tax is no different to welfare, you can’t focus on it in isolation. It is part of an interacting living, breathing, business economy.

SPEERS: Yeah ok, I may be totally wrong here but if you’re saying it pays for itself because more people are employed and pay more tax, why then is Treasury saying it’s going to cost $48 billion?

LAUNDY: Because it’s a line item, it does reduce the revenue on that line item.  But the multiplier effect in other areas is what… Forecasting everything, it’s all interactive here.

SPEERS: Why isn’t that positive impact recorded in the budget?

LAUNDY: It is, through PAYE tax receipts increasing over time.

SPEERS: So you’re saying there’s no net cost to the budget?

LAUNDY: I’m saying, if you want to.. well for two reasons, if you want businesses to invest, reinvest in themselves at greater rates, cause don’t forget, you can leave it at 30 and they’ll invest what they’ve got left…

SPEERS: Are you saying there’s no net cost to the budget?

LAUNDY: It will be a net benefit over time.

SPEERS: Why then is it recorded as a net cost?

LAUNDY: Because the line item decreases, you get an increase in the PAYE tax line item.

SPEERS: But why isn’t that there in the budget?

LAUNDY: It is.

SPEERS: So therefore there’d be no net cost to the budget.

LAUNDY: There’d be a net benefit over time of company tax cuts….

SPEERS: Does the budget say that?

LAUNDY: Yes because the PAYE tax line increases over time, that’s all factored in the modelling.

SPEERS: That’s what the budget says?  It says, it’s all factored in?

LAUNDY: The PAYE tax line increases over the next two years, three years, four years, five years, because as wage growth happens, and more people are employed, employment growth happens, you get more tax receipts.

SPEERS: well there you go, what are you worried about, it’s going to help the budget.

FITZGIBBON:  I don’t quite agree with Craig’s analysis, as much as I love him.  The important point here is that yes, a competitive tax regime is important.  It is true that obviously lower tax rates can stimulate the economy, I think that might have been what Craig was trying to say.  But at the end of the day David it is about priorities.  Now the Labor Party in Government has done more on tax reform, than Craig’s Party could ever –

SPEERS:  Do you believe this argument, do you accept that cutting company tax is going to generate higher PAYE returns?

FITZGIBBON:  Not in the terms as Craig put it. But I am accepting lower taxes can stimulate an economy but I don’t accept this sort of “trickle down story “which suggests, that Craig might suggest, that the guy he is taking the Newstart off is suddenly going to get a great boost and a perfect job opportunity because Craig reduced the company tax rate.  That is not the way it happens. Craig says let’s not take things in isolation – I say why don’t we take things in isolation – why has the Government in all these measures, in an Omnibus Bill, holding a gun to everyone’s head and said if you want this one – you have got to vote for this one too?

SPEERS:  You are clearly not going to agree on company tax cuts and I doubt you are going to agree on negative gearing even though you guys want to do it and you don’t.

FITZGIBBON: That is real reform.

SPEERS:  Let me throw a couple of scenarios at you- what about keeping a deficit levy in place?

LAUNDY:  You can’t trade insolvently as a company, let alone a country, and we need to increase it over time.

SPEERS:  What does that mean? Yes?

LAUNDY: You need to increase it , yes.  We have to function as a government.  You can’t stop functioning as a government.

SPEERS: You wouldn’t have a problem keeping it in place?

LAUNDY:  No, no it needs to move forward.  If we need to increase the debt limit –

SPEERS:  No I am talking about the deficit levy – the deficit levy.

LAUNDY:  Oh sorry – the deficit levy -  I thought you meant the actual ceiling of the deficit.

SPEERS:  no, no

LAUNDY:  The deficit levy was temporary.  You are taking the top taxpayer – and I know this has been a very effective sell by Labor.  You know, “tax cuts for millionaires”.   A millionaire pays $460,000 in tax – an effective rate of 46 cents in the dollar.  The equity in our tax system-

SPEERS:  You wouldn’t support –

LAUNDY:  - sits inside the existing progressive tax system.  Yes, it was put in for a temporary reason, it was always going to fall away.  It is not that we are taking it, it falls away by legislation and that’s how it should.

SPEERS:  And the Medicare levy?  Can it go up any more?

LAUNDY:  Joel – you’ve been silent?

FITZGIBBON:  No   Jenny Macklin has talked about special purpose uses – Medicare levy to pay for NDIS – sure.

SPEERS: There is no increase beyond that?

FITZGIBBON:  There is no magic pudding with the Medicare levy, I can’t remember the numbers now but I have looked at it many times.  A significant increase in the Medicare levy doesn’t produce an enormous amount of money so -  the Labor Party is prepared to consider all these – any  sensible proposal.

SPEERS:  You are willing to consider a further increase in the Medicare levy?

FITZGIBBON:    No I am not saying that, I will leave it to Chris Bowen to determine, because we will go through our of our policy processes and  -

SPEERS:  What about you then?

FITZGIBBON:    He is a reasonable person, he would be willing to have a reasonable conversation–

LAUNDY:  To show you how big is the difference between the Medicare levy and the cost.  You are talking $22 Billion at the moment in running the health system – and you are talking about $10Billion raised through the Medicare levy. If you want to just fund health through the Medicare levy, we gathered around $180 Billion this year in personal income tax.  You have got to increase it about 6 per cent.  Now at the top level you are already 49 cents in the dollar -  you can’t go to 55 / 56 cents.  You become the major shareholder in everybody’s life.

SPEERS:  When do you bend on negative gearing and capital gains tax?

LAUNDY:  You don’t.  We are the Government of Australia and I know in my electorate for example, this is an issue.  I believe it is a supply side issue and the Prime Minister has a lot of initiatives that we are going to start to attack it with.  But we are the Government of Australia.  If you put Labor’s policy, which I don’t think works because of the second paragraph but that is another argument.  If you put that policy in, in housing markets in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, which are in decline, not growth, you smash things.  And let alone -what about commercial properties? 

FITZGIBBON:  OK, great.  So when Scott Morrison said that when we can’t get these savings through we will have to look at putting taxes up – which taxes was he talking about?

LAUNDY:  No, no.  He was saying – we are going to try to get the savings through Joel.

FITZGIBBON:    He made it pretty clear mate.

LAUNDY:  no, no –

SPEERS:  Well he has also said Joel, he has said he has no desire to put tax up.  And it doesn’t sound like you are willing to back any sort of tax increase from what I am hearing.  We know what Labor’s position is to A. keep the deficit levy in place a little longer and B. negative gearing reform –

FITZGIBBON:  $26 Million saving straight away David.  I know it sounds small but these things in aggregate do add up.  $26 Million for the Pesticides Authority from Canberra to Barnaby Joyce’s electorate.  $26 Million saved straight away. 

HOST:  I know you have been very critical of  -

FITZGIBBON:   Now there’s an idea Craig you’d back that.

LAUNDY: Now Joel, I know you and Barnaby are good mates.  I will let you two battle that one out.

HOST:  You’ve got a Senate inquiry to look at this haven’t you?

FITZGIBBON:  There is a Senate inquiry.  The Senate in its wisdom can see this is a pork barrelling – not only is it going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money but it is going to smash farm productivity, that’s the opposite effect you are talking about Craig with your stimulus.  Smash farm productivity –

LAUNDY:  You know what I would rather do Joel?

FITZGIBBON:  Experts will be lining up, including industry groups, the NFF, I can guarantee, saying this is a very bad idea and it will cost –

SPEERS:  I don’t think it will fix the Budget altogether –

LAUNDY:  Is Joel talking about the APVMA?


LAUNDY:  Ok and that is in his portfolio.  What I would be more interested in – is how do we get the APVMA, NICNAS and the TGA working better together – to give less red tape and regulation.

FITZGIBBON:  Not by moving it to Armidale –

LAUNDY:  By coordinating instead of having Government operate in silos.  Having it work together – having less red tape and regulation.

SPEERS:  You are losing me on acronyms.  So let me just bring it back to the final question on the Budget.  Are there any other serious spending cuts that Labor would support- if you don’t like the ones in the Omnibus Bill?  Defence spending? Nick Xenophon suggested that.  Is there anything else?

FITZGIBBON:  As always Labor will go to the Election with a fully costed and funded Budget proposal.  As we always do.  Just as we did at the last Election – we will lead the economic debate.  We will make the brave and bold decisions like negative gearing and capital gains.  We have supported, how many billion? - $22 Billion worth of cuts so far from this Government.  Something very large.  So we  have shown our capacity and willingness to  back good policy.  

LAUNDY:  Begrudgingly.

FITZGIBBON:  But we won’t back bad policy

SPEERS:  Let’s move onto energy policy.  50 per cent renewables.  Is it an aspiration, a target?  What is it?

FITZGIBBON:  You have to have these aspirations you know. 

LAUNDY:  It is a target Joel.

FITZGIBBON:  I am happy to call a target  - when did the energy crisis begin really?  It began when Tony Abbott unravelled all the transitional planning we did in Government.  You guys do not have a policy – I have four major power generators in my electorate producing between them 10,000 megawatt hours – in five years one of them will be gone, in twenty years they will all be gone –

SPEERS:  Do you want them to stay?

FITZGIBBON:  Where is the transitional plan?

SPEERS:  Do you want to see them stay?

FITZGIBBON:    They are running to the end of their useful commercial life so they can’t stay.  Now there is no [inaudible] clean coal technology.  No one would love that more than me but it just isn’t there David.  We have got to have a transitional plan and of course very happy to say gas has to be part of it .  You notice Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, jumped straight to clean coal which doesn’t exist but didn’t even talk about gas?  Why is that?  Because he doesn’t have a range of  -

SPEERS: Because he is agnostic and – pumped hydro he is pretty keen on.

FITZGIBBON:  He has walked away   Look at his Hansard and his interviews.  When was the last time he mentioned gas?  I will tell you why he is not mentioning gas because it takes some leadership.  It is hard. 

LAUNDY:  Look you need everything in the mix.  But you are right.  The Prime Minister is agnostic- but Joel you have got to understand the lunacy.  And there is no costings on Labor’s policy.  No costings.  There is this figure.  A thing that was done on $48 Billion which coincidentally the Member for Cowan, the Labor Member, last night mentioned. 

FITZGIBBON:    No. No she did not.  I checked –

LAUNDY:  You checked?  OK.  I am going off what Josh said- 

FITZGIBBON:  I went straight to check the Hansard.  That is not what she –

LAUNDY:  David, let me again throw numbers at you.  86 per cent of the power generated today is comprised of coal and gas.  14 per cent renewables.  Now of that 14 per cent - half of it is hydro- which really hasn‘t moved for a long while – you have got 7 per cent hydro  7per cent wind and solar.  They want to take, Labor, Joel and his team, want to take it from 7 per cent to 50 per cent - and it is going to do the bulk of the lifting. You have got to talk storage and systems –

FITZGIBBON:  When coal-fired power stations close down and they will – I don’t want them to – but they are reaching their useful life.  What is going to replace them? Nothing? We need a Government showing leadership.  Leading the transition, working out roughly where  -

LAUNDY:  Which is exactly what we are trying to do Joel.

FITZGIBBON:  No you are not.  You have no plan.  You repealed out all our legislation  We had a plan. 

LAUNDY:  Careering towards an uncosted 50per cent renewables –

FITZGIBBON:   -  investors don’t know what’s happening - 

SPEERS:  You are in Government now. You have Hazelwood closing down in a few weeks, I don’t know how many the ones in the Hunter - 

FITZGIBBON:  One has closed, one is gone in five, in twenty years they are all gone.

SPEERS:  OK.  What will replace them if you stay in Government for that period.  What will replace them?

LAUNDY:  You need to invest in storage.  Ok you have heard a lot –

SPEERS:  not coal?

LAUNDY:  No you need to invest in  - as the Minister for Innovation –

FITZGIBBON:    Lasted less than a week  -

LAUNDY:  No as I can tell you – that is investing – investing in storage.  And we will capture whatever, pollution, emissions, the whole net goal.  You have heard a lot about pumped hydro  - I can tell you there are some interesting controls going on right now in South Australia about how you capture, how you store through melting silicon.  So this innovation is happening.  We need to invest more in it.  Which the Prime Minister has directed the CFC to do.  The CFC -  no you need –

FITZGIBBON:  What are you going to do?

LAUNDY:  You can’t go to 50 – you cannot tell me that with intermittent renewables you can go to 50% without storage being part of the equation.

FITZGIBBON:  Why it has taken you four years to start talking about it –

LAUNDY:  We are talking – because the system started falling over in the last six months.

FITZGIBBON:  We only worked out six months ago that my four generators are closing soon?

LAUNDY:  No Joel- we are all going towards  -  no you didn’t have a transitional plan. Labor did not.  There has been no money invested in storage at all.

SPEERS:  OK I don’t think we are going to solve it right now.   I will have to move on.  Thank you both very much, Craig Laundy, Joel Fitzgibbon  we will catch up again next week.

FITZGIBBON:  A great pleasure. 

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